How many people have died unjustly and unseen, out of mind and now forgotten by all but those who love them? It is a question we should ask in light of the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd situations. It is a reminder that justice would have been denied to both men had there not been video.
How many more are out there?
Body camera footage and the rise of cellphones continue to improve police accountability. The rise of high-quality cellphone cameras is also why we should remain somewhat skeptical of UFOs. We have 4K video capability in our pockets, and the aliens are still really grainy.
What is not grainy is the rise of police shooting videos. Concurrent with that, however, is the use of those videos to oftentimes amplify and exaggerate a threat that really is no threat. Not every situation is a George Floyd situation. In that situation, we were not witnessing a split-second decision but a multi-minute decision wherein a police officer repeatedly refused to take his knee off Floyd’s neck. Even after Floyd was motionless and paramedics needed to intervene, Derek Chauvin waited.
In Ohio, Ma’Khia Bryant died after a police officer shot her. Body camera footage showed that, within five seconds of the officer arriving at the scene, a girl fell to the ground in front of him. A caller to 911 said a girl was trying to stab people. Within a few seconds of the first girl falling, the officer saw Bryant rearing back with a large knife in her hand. “Get down, get down,” he yelled out to her. Within 13 seconds of the officer engaging and seven seconds after the first girl fell, Bryant fell and died. The officer stopped her from stabbing another girl.
Black Lives Matters activists immediately began protesting. Some attacked the police for intervening with force because, in the words of Black Lives Matter activist Bree Newsome: “Teenagers have been having fights including fights involving knives for eons. We do not need police to address these situations by showing up to the scene & using a weapon against one of the teenagers. Y’all need help. I mean that sincerely.”
That is easy for her to tweet from afar, made more so because Bryant did not stab the second girl, potentially fatally. The armchair-quarterbacking of police shootings is, at this point, more recurrent and sustained than bad officers behaving badly. In postmodern society, the exceptions are being treated as the rule. The bad police officer is treated as the rule, and the good officer is the exception. People have failed to be nuanced and understand differences.
In Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks passed out in the drive-thru of a Wendy’s. It took some time for the police to get him to wake up and move his car. They interacted with Brooks for about an hour before getting him situated so they could get him in the back of a police car. When the police attempted that, Brooks became violent and fought the police. He shoved one to the ground so hard that he caused a concussion. He grabbed one of the officer’s Tasers and bolted. The second officer gave chase, and Brooks attempted to turn and fire the Taser. The officer responded with deadly force.
Local politicians immediately painted the officer as the bad guy. Of course, had Brooks successfully incapacitated the officer, perhaps he could have gotten the officer’s gun. Judging the officer in the split second and making him the bad guy to placate the mob is not really justice. It just feels like justice as some have internalized the narrative that the police are racist.
Because the mob has decided to vilify, second-guess and armchair-quarterback the police, we are headed into a time when few will want to be police. We will see crime rise and no one around to help. The vilification of the police needs to stop. Not every situation is a George Floyd situation. Our failure to distinguish between the Floyd situation and others undermines our communities.